Commission recommends 1-year moratorium on new Charleston bars

VIDEO: Commission recommends 1-year moratorium on Charleston bar ordinance
Published: Aug. 20, 2014 at 9:01 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 21, 2014 at 8:27 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - In a 5-4 vote, the Charleston Planning Commission approved a recommendation on a one-year moratorium on new bars that can stay open past midnight.

The recommendation will be presented to City Council in September.

On Wednesday afternoon, Planning Director Tim Keane recommended the city get rid of the pending ordinance forcing new bars to close at midnight and, instead, simply ban new bars in certain parts of downtown. After backlash from both the public and business owners, the city was originally looking at a 3-year ban on new late night bars and restaurants while they figure out other options.

Keane says during those three years, a group of industry representatives and property owners would evaluate long term solutions for alcohol-based businesses.

"The moratorium is an opportunity for us to hit the pause button," Mayor Joe Riley said during Wednesday's meeting.

"We are working with business owners not against them," said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen. Mullen said the moratorium would provide an opportunity to create a vision for the future.

Mullen also said arrests on King Street are up by 13.5% in 2014, mostly for disorderly conduct.

Several residents then spoke and said they were in favor of the 3-year moratorium. A number of neighborhood associations also spoke in favor of the moratorium and cited negative impacts of excess drinking like public urination, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and trespassing.

"It's pretty obvious that we have an impact of alcohol late at night, and we live there and we see it, and it seems reasonable to us to step back and take a look and see if the city and the citizens can provide some direction so that we have a reasonable balance."

Those who opposed the moratorium, including the owner of the Recovery Room, said the moratorium wasn't fair, would lead to a fiasco, and questioned if the city wanted a thriving nightlife. A College of Charleston alumni asked where people would go when bars close.

"If we're looking at safety and livability, we need to look at where these folks are going to go after the bars close. If that's at midnight, they are not going to be able to go into the bars that are open until 2 a.m. Where they are going to go is back into the neighborhoods."

Everything started back in May when the city council voted in favor of banning new bars and restaurants on King, Meeting, and most of Market street from staying open past midnight.

Both Keane and Mayor Riley say they're concerned those areas will become boring during the day and overcrowded at night.

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